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Editorial: AFR plan needs fine tuning

Fire Chief Paul Dow of Albuquerque Fire Rescue doused some flames of debate last week when he clarified his intent to bill those responsible for costs incurred in some emergency call-outs. Now he says the department intends to only go after those responsible for large traffic wrecks that tie up his crews and resources like the cattle truck that overturned on Interstate 25 in October or the fuel tanker rollover in March 2018 that took at least 12 hours to clean up. Under the new plan, the cattle incident would have been billable for $29,210, the tanker for $32,540 – preventing taxpayers from having to foot those types of large bills.

The original draft ordinance made it seem AFR would go after anyone who left a puddle of oil or radiator fluid on the pavement. Dow and his team told Journal editors Friday that’s not their intent. The rewrite allows AFR to go only after reimbursement costs for the worst hazardous material or vehicle fire incidents where cleanup runs over an hour and racks up in excess of $1,500 in fees for the heavy equipment required. Dow announced in a news release Tuesday “our intent with this proposal was always to focus our efforts on insurance companies. …”

The intent is good, but many unanswered questions remain. The city doesn’t know how many wrecks this will involve, how much money it will save taxpayers or how often the chief will decide to “waive fees” as allowed in the new ordinance (doesn’t this open to door to claims of favoritism?).

If the City Council approves the plan, it should do so as a pilot only. This bill has the potential to help AFR recover some costs without burning Albuquerque taxpayers; here’s to keeping a cool head and doing it right.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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